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Sima Menora created DROR after tragedy struck her family. The organization helps girls to achieve success and self confidence, paving their way for a brighter future.

Sima Menora and her family made aliyah (immigration to Israel) 20 years ago from Chicago.

In the summer of 2010, tragedy struck the family when two of her five children – Rikki, 17, and Racheli, 15 – were killed in a plane crash, along with a cousin. The Menora girls, along with their 13-year-old brother Yossi, had traveled back to America to visit with their grandparents. They were in a private aircraft flown by their grandfather when engine trouble caused it to crash.

Yossi escaped from the scorching plane and suffered severe burns, but he survived.

Memorializing Girls by Helping Others

After the crash, Menora decided to preserve their memories through a worthy cause, and so she started an organization called DROR, which stands for “Derech Rikki v’Racheli” (in English, Rikki and Racheli’s Way).

Menora received inspiration for Dror’s programming from her experiences during Racheli’s adolescence. Racheli, a lovely girl with a wonderful sense of humor, had faced educational challenges in junior high school. Her parents took the situation in hand, arranged tutoring and encouraged her to become involved in a sport.

With the additional support, Racheli started getting high grades on tests and began playing tennis. The increased success in the classroom and on the tennis court gave her renewed confidence.

After the tragic accident, Menora decided to create a program in memory of her daughters that identifies girls at this crucial stage of life and gives them the resources to face challenges. Her belief is that increased assistance in class and in sports along the lines of what Racheli had received, will give these girls a better chance to cope with life’s obstacles and achieve greater success in all areas of their lives.

Inspiring to Aspire

The program currently has 64 girls enrolled in two schools located in the city of Beit Shemesh, where they grew up – Noga (Hebrew for brilliant light) and Gila (joy). Menora (itself the Hebrew word for the seven-branched candelabra that was lit in the ancient Jewish Temple) hopes to expand the organization, not only by extending the time allotted to each girl, but also by expanding to other schools across the country.

Recently, DROR joined forces with the Azrieli Foundation (Keren Azrieli) – the philanthropic wing of the Canadian conglomerate that built many of the malls in Israel –- in order to maximize resources.

Success Breeds Greater Success

Menora gets feedback about the girls’ achievements from both teachers and students. Educators have reported participants going from lowering their heads and hiding whenever questions are asked to raising their hands with confidence in class. Success breeds more success. Once the girls experience empowerment and know that they have the ability to do well, they come to realize that they can succeed when facing other challenges as well.

The training in sports not only supplements the educational program, but also improves the girls’ body image and confidence. Currently, the girls have the option of doing hip-hop or kickboxing, although a few select students play tennis. When Menora offered other sports options, most of the girls chose to continue dancing.

The program is run entirely after school hours, requiring a huge commitment on the part of the students as well as the parents. It also requires self-discipline on the part of the students. By the end of a school day, most kids are ready to go home and just “chill,” but for the DROR girls, the day has only just begun.

Parents play an important role. They must be involved, Menora says. Otherwise, much of what is being done can be undone at the end of the day. Once a month, parents meet with the school to discuss their daughters’ progress.

DROR has also established a team for the Jerusalem Marathon. Most team members are not students, but regular members of the community who want to support the activities of DROR. By participating, they not only show moral support, but also help raise funds for the organization.

Menora says that DROR is not just about the girls, but also about empowering all people to achieve what they want.

Menora likes to point to the reference in the Torah to the dror, a sparrow. Unlike the American image of a bell to signify freedom, the Torah’s symbol for freedom is a bird, a dror – unbound, moving, flying high, spreading its wings, taking flight.

She sees significance in this symbolism, as the program gives the girls the ability to take flight. She wants them to think, when facing a challenge: “Why not?  There’s nothing holding me back.” In fact, one of her favorite sayings is: “With mind and body working at optimum, the sky’s the limit.”

For more information, visit DROR’s website: drornow.org

By Penina Taylor, United with Israel

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